Where We Go From Here

“Keep hope alive” isn’t a cliché. It’s a call to action.

We can’t perpetuate hope simply by searching for feelings of optimism within ourselves. We have to work, each day, to actively uplift our most vulnerable neighbors, to be our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, to create space for marginalized voices that were once rendered unintelligible to be heard, acknowledged, and validated.

As we process the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and its implications for our nation, we must remember one of the great lessons of her life: that compassion is not just a moral virtue, but a penultimate political ideal. Donald Trump just appointed Amy Coney Barrett to Ginsburg’s seat, an Antonin Scalia disciple who will undoubtedly oppose reproductive choice, entrench executive power, overturn LGBTQ+ rights, and undermine racial equality.

We have a fight on our hands.

In reality, it’s the same fight in which we’ve been engaged for years, from before the time of Trump. It’s the fight against inequality and discrimination for which Ginsburg, herself, spent much of her life as a figurehead, never more so than during her final years. In the midst of a national emergency, we’re now dealing with a national tragedy. It is all unfolding against the backdrop of a countrywide reckoning with the roots of historical injustice that still structure the governing institutions of the United States. Justice Ginsburg strove, with every last breath, to prevent our nation from becoming a caste system.

We can’t let her down.

It’s okay to be fearful about our future. Trump has repeatedly sown discord about the upcoming presidential election. Given his repeated comments about staying in power–not to mention his authoritarian executive actions and professed affinity for dictators–we have to take seriously the possibility that he won’t leave office willingly if voters support Democratic nominee Joe Biden. If Trump does try to rush a Supreme Court pick through the vetting process before November, one of the primary questions Barrett will face will be: what should the Supreme Court do if Trump tries to overturn the electoral will of the people?

It’s also okay to be deeply concerned that Trump’s nominee will jeopardize human dignity. Trump’s pick, like Scalia before her, is beholden to constitutional originalism, a judicial philosophy steeped in what the late Harvard professor Svetlana Boym called “restorative nostalgia,” which “puts emphasis on nostos (returning home) and proposes to rebuild the lost home and patch up the memory gaps.” Trump wants the courts to help him recreate the “lost home” of the xenophobic and monopolistic American past–a time in which abortion was criminalized, healthcare was unaffordable, wealthy businessmen reaped unchecked profits at the expense of working families, corporations commodified the environment with impunity, LGBTQ+ citizens couldn’t marry, and people of color were systematically disenfranchised, dispossessed, and disembodied.

In the spirit of Ginsburg’s famous dissents, though, we should maintain a fierce belief that together we can win the struggle for our nation’s future. Republicans need 50 votes to push Trump’s nominee through the U.S. Senate. They hold 53 seats in the chamber, but have already lost two votes–Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, the latter of whom is facing a strong challenge from Democrat Sara Gideon. Other Republicans are facing similar challenges or represent left-of-center states, like Cory Gardner of Colorado, and may be pressured to buck Trump’s attempt to tear apart our fragile national fabric. We have become the dissenters. It’s an odd label to give to a majority of the country, but it’s one that we, the people, must embrace by connecting the battle for Ginsburg’s seat to our ability to deliver hope to those who need it most in a time of crisis and confusion. Yesterday, we mourned. Today, we organize.

As Ginsburg famously proclaimed, may our dissents determine the law. It will be hard, but RBG has shown us the way.

Leadership After COVID: Now, It’s the Women’s Turn

Women-led nations are doing better than male-led nations in handling COVID-19.

To all the men out there who recoil at that statement, get over it. It’s true. And new research backs it up. According to a study of 194 countries by two economists based in England, Supriya Garikipati and Uma Kambhampati, women-led nations like New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, Taiwan, and Finland have recorded fewer deaths than those led by men, like the United States, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Even at the local level, we can see the impact of structural patriarchy on pandemic-related policymaking. In Honolulu, for example, Mayor Kirk Caldwell recently issued an executive order opening beaches, hiking trails and parks for solo, by-yourself activities. If you’re a single mother struggling to manage a crumbling economy and your children’s virtual learning environment, forget about taking your kids to the beach for a 15-minute break.

Just drop 5-year-old Johnny off by the forest and tell him to take a hike. Baby’s first solo adventure. What could go wrong?

It’s easy to dismiss Caldwell’s decision as a lapse in judgement intended to make enforcement of social distancing requirements easier for law enforcement. Yet, one has to ask: if more women who understand the difficulties of motherhood were involved in municipal decision-making, would the executive order have looked different?

I submit that it would have and that it’s just one example of the problems that patriarchy causes in dealing with the crisis. Take two case studies in leadership, the United States and New Zealand. In the U.S., President Donald Trump is currently making headlines for reportedly downplaying the impact of the coronavirus for political effect. This comes as the U.S.’s COVID-19 death toll nears 200,000 and case count surpasses 6.5 million, while the economy sputters and teachers die in prematurely reopened classrooms. This is what Trump calls “winning.”

In contrast, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern–who gave birth while running her country–immediately responded to the COVID threat by implementing measures to contain community spread. New Zealand’s borders were locked down to travelers. Her government implemented science-based actions that pivoted from managing to eliminating the disease because of testing limitations at the onset of the virus, which led to the nation being COVID-free for 100 consecutive days. To uplift the economy, New Zealand is investing NZ$175 million into arts and cultural programming and calling for the creation of thousands of green jobs.

President Trump and U.S. leaders don’t have a viable economic recovery plan. The U.S. House of Representatives–led by a woman, Rep. Nancy Pelosi–has been pushing for a major relief bill to help state governments meet their social obligations, provide a second robust stimulus payment to all residents, and deliver significant financial assistance to essential employees. But the Senate–led by a man, Sen. Mitch McConnell–is only interested in targeted relief that boosts the bottom lines of private businesses.

We can all think of women who failed at the task of leadership, like U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is using the COVID crisis to defund public schools and push for the institution of voucher programs. (Side question: can schools use vouchers to purchase guns to fight off potential grizzly bear attacks, as DeVos warned about during her confirmation hearing?) For further reference, see former British Prime Minister Theresa May, who adheres to the paternalistic ideology of “one-nation conservative” and is best known for her Brexit buffoonery.

Women-led nations have grappled with their legacies of patriarchy and gender discrimination thoroughly enough to entrust a female to be their national leader. That’s axiomatic, but it also suggests that those countries are open to embracing democratizing norms and policies, like economic recoveries meant to advance the common good. They’re less likely than male-dominant polities to be steeped in pandemic denialism and have their top political leaders propound COVID conspiracies, as Trump does on a daily basis.

Numerous studies have shown that women are more empathetic than men. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when female leaders implement policies that put compassion before competition. While many nations engaged in fear-mongering over immigration throughout this decade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ensured that nearly a million refugees entering Germany were guaranteed their basic human rights. As the U.S. allows unemployment insurance to expire for tens of millions of people who have lost their jobs, Prime Minister Ardern is guiding New Zealand in implementing comprehensive wage subsidies and deferring mortgages until March 31, 2021.

Jacindamania is a direct challenge to male domination. Though the media fawns over the “resolute ordinariness of her existence,” her impact on the international political community is anything but quotidian. Her exceptional skill in flattening New Zealand’s COVID curve has positioned her as a central figure in flattening patriarchal social hierarchies. Her female counterparts in the club of national leaders are doing the same. They’re not interested in token gestures of progress. Rather, they’re crafting new models of gendered leadership that are proving–not that they need to prove anything to anyone–to be more effective in addressing the most pressing issues to today, from the coronavirus to climate change to economic inequality.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the global response to the pandemic. Our economic, political, and public health systems will be changed forever. If we want those changes to be a sign and signal of our commitment to human dignity, then we need to empower women to sit at the heads of the tables they’ve been forced to set for centuries.

They should have been sitting there all along.

The Flame of Racial Violence Must Be Extinguished

02 El Paso shooting IPA TT

I’m heartbroken. Again.

Yesterday, Patrick Crusius, a connoisseur of MAGA-style anti-immigrant bigotry, walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and opened fire. At the end of his murderous rage, Crusius had killed at least 20 people and injured 26 others, including an infant child.

An infant child, who hadn’t been captured by the radical racism that’s ascended to this country’s presidency. Whose life is instead snuffed out by it.

According to media reports, Crusius, who claims to have been inspired by the Christchurch shootings in New Zealand that left 51 dead, published a “manifesto” online, in which he detailed his hatred of immigrants and parroted white nationalist fear-mongering about “ethnic displacement” and “race mixing.” Crusius also maintained a Twitter account that included posts that contained a “BuildTheWall” hashtag, as well as photos of guns used to spell out the name “Trump.”

Sadly, the El Paso attack was just the day’s nightmarish opening salvo. Just a few hours later, another white man gunned down at least 25 people in Dayton, Ohio, slaughtering 9 and wounding 16. It’s the new normal in our nation. There have been more mass shootings in the United States, in 2019, than there have been days in the year: 251 shootings in 215 days.

Yesterday’s Texas killing is the second racially-motivated massacre in a week, coming on the heels of a white supremacist shooting spree at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California that left three dead. This is homegrown terrorism. It’s tearing the fabric of our nation into broken threads.

Yet, as prior atrocities have proven, Congress will fail to respond to this tragedy with compassionate legislation because the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the terrorist organization known as the National Rifle Association. Nevermind that most NRA members support sensible gun regulations, like comprehensive background checks. Nothing will be done because those who speak for the NRA talk loudly and carry a big, gas-operated Kalashnikov. Probably more than one.

And because the murders are the fulfillment of the modern GOP’s grotesque agenda.

Sure, that’s a bold statement to make. When the President of the United States engages in eliminationist rhetoric on an almost daily basis, though, we shouldn’t be surprised that his most disillusioned and delusional followers act out the brutality of his words as if they are a political prophecy. Trump’s claim to the Oval Office has always been predicated upon stoking racial resentment for electoral gain, as if he’s attempting to undo over a century of cosmopolitan progress. His presidency, itself, reveals how phantasmic that progress has been for tens of millions of Americans, who remain hold fast to the fantasy that a slavelike society can be resurrected.

Millions of Americans supported Trump’s racist questioning of President Obama’s birth certificate, a thinly veiled accusation that Obama was not “one of us.” Millions of Americans cheered when Trump called for ending birthright citizenship via executive fiat. Millions of Americans believe that the country would be better if minorities went “back to where they came from,” meaning not just places beyond U.S. borders, but spaces of social inferiority, where protests about discrimination and abuse can be easily silenced.

Back to the poor side of town, they mean. Back to segregated schools. Back to the plantations.

Toxic white patriarchy is traumatizing our national community, from sea to blood soaked sea. As Jenifer Wright wrote for Harpers Bazaar in February of 2018, “We live in a culture that worships men with guns. You can probably think of many off the top of your head–John Wayne, Indiana Jones or James Bond come immediately to mind. They’re all men who get what they want.”

Young white men who commit mass murder seem to believe that the world hasn’t given them the benefits to which they feel entitled–status, money, sexual gratification. Now, however, that umbrage has been given a scapegoat: the other of color, who crosses the border or stalks the neighborhood to steal the macho pleasures that bigoted barbarians covet. These aren’t prizes to be won, according to the budding racist. They’re rights of citizenship being taken by non-citizens, by aliens, by those who are targets of Trump’s totalitarian taunts.

Our federal institutions are too paralyzed by corporate cronyism to protect our safety. That doesn’t mean we can’t take matters into our own hands. We can lobby for gun control at our local legislatures and city councils. We can organize our neighborhoods to counteract the influence of big gun money in local elections, putting up pro-safety candidates against Second Amendment fetishists.

We can advocate for civic education initiatives that empower students to become agents of change. We can call out school curricula that downplay struggles to overcome minority suppression. For that matter, we can better educate ourselves on the legacy of those struggles–from the Black Codes and Jim Crow to Stonewall and the battle to overturn quota systems and barriers to Dreamer success–so that we can more easily see the humanity in our neighbors and build continuums of care for one another.

We can cast a ballot against anyone who campaigns by fanning centuries-old flames of hatred and fear, which have burned the soul of America since the founding of the nation.

We must not read more victims than necessary into our heart of darkness. We’ve already sacrificed far too much. Ending the bloodshed will require grappling with hurtful truths. Living the changes needed to secure a ceasefire may be hard. But the opportunity to heal a country that is once again reeling from the mindless menace of violence is, as ever, within our grasp.